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Middle of Nowhere DVD Review

Middle of Nowhere movie poster Middle of Nowhere

Video Debut: July 13, 2010 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Stockwell / Writer: Michelle Morgan

Cast: Eva Amurri (Grace Berry), Anton Yelchin (Dorian Spitz), Willa Holland (Taylor Elizabeth Berry), Susan Sarandon (Rhonda Berry), Justin Chatwin (Ben Pretzler), Jeanetta Arnette (Mindy Green), Brea Grant (Jean), Anny Ibarra (Elena), Kenny Bordes (Ryan), Scott Martin (Morris Kraven), Aimee Fortier (Bonnie), Marie Debrey (Paulette Spitz), Lindsay Soileau (Cami), Veronica Berry (Vik), Andrea Frankle (Jessica Luther), Jessica Heap (Justine Spitz), Keith Pratt (Joe)

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Those who assume that children of movie stars get fast-tracked to desired superstardom of their own are mistaken. Take Eva Amurri, for example. The daughter of Susan Sarandon, Amurri is young, pretty, and talented, but she's had to work like anyone else to break through.
Now, following supporting turns in films like Saved and The Education of Charlie Banks, Amurri claims what appears to be her first lead role. But, even with her real-life mother playing her onscreen one, Middle of Nowhere premieres on video next week without having enjoyed a theatrical release.

In Middle, Amurri plays Grace Berry, a recent high school graduate with doctor aspirations. Standing between her and college is a mountain of credit card debt her irresponsible mother (Sarandon) has racked up in her name following Grace's father's suicide. Grace does the only thing she can: get a summer job. Lifeguarding at a local water park satisfies neither intellectually nor financially, but the work does introduce her to Dorian Spitz (Anton Yelchin). An adopted black sheep, Dorian has opted not to inherit his upper class family's embalming empire and his acting out has gotten him sent to live with his uncle, hoofing it to the water park and everywhere else he needs to go.

Grace Berry (Eva Amurri) carries a yardstick at her summer job as a water park lifeguard with which to ensure kids meet the water slide's minimum height requirement. Fedora-wearing Dorian Spitz (Anton Yelchin) makes an impassioned case for marijuana usage before pitching Grace his business proposal.

In Grace, Dorian sees the driver he needs for his side job: selling pot to young partygoers. Grace is no advocate for the drug, but realizing her hourly wage won't get her the $12,000 she needs to enroll in August, she cautiously becomes his proceeds-splitting partner. Playing less like a teenaged version of "Weeds" than that suggests, the film deals a revelatory summer coming-of-age not just for Grace and Dorian, but also Grace's 15-year-old sister Taylor (Willa Holland), who is barely resisting her mother's plan for her to get into modeling. Middle gets one quasi love triangle out of that dynamic and another involving shaggy prepster Ben (Justin Chatwin, Dragonball: Evolution).

There's a joke waiting to be made regarding the title and the film's propensity for meandering. Never wanting to pick one thread to follow through, it wanders between Grace and Dorian's decidedly different workplaces, alternately advancing and stalling their friendship while shedding light on each's family secrets. While the film doesn't excel on any front, it also doesn't fully flounder on any of them. At its weakest, it relies on tired scenarios and contrived coincidences (Taylor gets quickly drunk and in need of a rescue). Most of the time, though, things remain moderately compelling for us and the substantive characters.

Though Amurri comfortably claims the most screentime, it is Star Trek's Yelchin who gets to do the most acting. He impresses, bringing depth to what at first glance is nothing more than a jumpy, rebellious smartass. Sarandon only has a handful of scenes, but she makes the most of each. Holland intrigues as the believably curious naοf. Chatwin's performance enables his character to be read one way, then re-evaluated another.

Younger sister Taylor Elizabeth Berry (Willa Holland) does not look altogether pleased with the modeling career her mother (Susan Sarandon) has charted out for her. To Dorian's dismay, Grace (Eva Amurri) takes romantic interest in unshaven preppy boy Ben Pretzler (Justin Chatwin).

Middle of Nowhere marks the screenwriting debut of sporadic actress Michelle Morgan, who has since penned a Girls Just Want to Have Fun remake for Fox. John Stockwell, himself once a thespian, directed this film, his seventh, further demonstrating his gravitation toward water settings (Into the Blue, Blue Crush, Turistas).

Having premiered almost two years ago (when it was a little less of a stretch for Amurri to still be playing teenaged) at the Toronto International Film Festival, Middle of Nowhere finally comes to DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download from Image Entertainment on July 13th. The studio doesn't seem to do a great job of selling the film honestly. Neither the tagline nor the cover (whose bikini-clad cover girl doesn't appear to be Amurri, who does no such pensive floating anyway) represents the film in even a slightly accurate way, but such is a typical challenge for something that's not easily marketed on star power or a conveyable concept.

Buy Middle of Nowhere on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $27.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($29.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

One of the easiest areas to fault Middle of Nowhere is in its production values. Presumably the byproduct of a super low budget, the film doesn't always look and sound the best, facts the DVD seems to draw attention to. The picture remains clean on the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, but very soft and with an out-of-focus look to which you must adjust. Colors occasionally are washed out as well. Of course, these are problems only by the high standards of a new film's 2010 DVD debut. Middle is entirely watchable, but it noticeably pales next to much of the larger studio output.

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack delivers solid atmosphere, but it's a little more than desired at times. At such times, it overpowers the dialogue, which isn't always the cleanest to begin with (even when it's been noticeably looped). Much like the picture quality, this disappoints most in comparison to its contemporaries.

Actor-turned-director John Stockwell acknowledges his history of filming young people in bathing suits in "Making of 'Middle of Nowhere.'" The funny story Taylor (Willa Holland) tells Dorian (Anton Yelchin) bombs in this deleted scene. One of the film's many interesting road shots is partially obscured by lifeguard chair on the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with "Making of Middle of Nowhere" (25:00), a featurette that is about as routine as its title suggests.
Leading cast and crew members discuss the characters, the story, the actors, and filming in Baton Rouge. They're given more time to sound off and some cool insights emerge, but this is still nothing out of the ordinary.

"Cast and Crew Interviews" (11:15) supplies additional and extended remarks from seven of the people interviewed above: director John Stockwell; actors Eva Amurri, Anton Yelchin, Justin Chatwin, Willa Holland, and Susan Sarandon; and producers David Lancaster and Nicole Rocklin. The EPK-ready remarks, apparently unusable in the featurette, are introduced by topical text screens.

A collection of seven brief deleted scenes (6:35) mainly extends existing bits. We get a couple of literary references illustrating our youths' book smarts and Taylor sharing a joke with Dorian.

Finally, there is a trailer (1:56) for the film, the disc's welcome only preview, which it rightly doesn't identify as "theatrical."

The DVD's main menu runs montage behind a lifeguard's chair.

Two out of three teenagers (Anton Yelchin, Willa Holland, Eva Amurri) are visibly sweaty whilst taking this summer drive in the middle of nowhere (Louisiana).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's never fun to see a film have to settle for a video debut, especially when the film has some merit, as Middle of Nowhere does. Even when watched with expectations lowered by the auspices, this does have its share of shortcomings that are tougher to single out than to notice. But it's also got a number of decent things going for it in its acting and storytelling. While it's easy to see why limited commercial prospects made skipping a general theatrical release necessary, that doesn't mean this is something you should avoid. Image's DVD provides a relatively weak feature presentation but a satisfactory collection of extras.

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Reviewed July 10, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Bold Films and 2010 Image Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.